Widow loses suit for King's papers as jury backs Boston University

May 07, 1993|By Boston Globe

BOSTON -- The high-stakes trial over 83,000 personal papers of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ended yesterday with a Suffolk Superior Court jury ruling that Boston University is the rightful owner of the documents.

The jury concluded that the combination of a 1964 letter from the civil rights leader to Boston University concerning the papers and the actual delivery of the papers to the university constituted a valid and enforceable charitable pledge.

Of enormous historical research value to scholars, the papers cover the early 1950s -- when Dr. King was a doctoral student at Boston University and developing his philosophy of nonviolent social change -- to 1964, by which time he had attained international prominence as a leader of the U.S. civil rights movement.

Dr. King, who was assassinated in 1968, placed the papers at Boston University almost 30 years ago.

In Atlanta, Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, expressed disappointment that "moral justice" had not prevailed. She had sued the university over ownership of the papers.

"I have no doubt that my husband wanted his papers returned to Atlanta and no doubt that here is where they should reside," she said.

Mrs. King had testified at the two-week trial that her husband decided to place the papers at Boston University during a time of upheaval in the South, where she said the papers risked being destroyed. She asserted that before he died, her husband changed his mind about leaving his papers at the university and expressed a wish to see them eventually returned to the South, where the key struggles of the civil rights movement were waged.

"It is the intention on the part of my children and myself to appeal if our post-verdict alternatives are not resolved favorably," she said.

The jury, which included two blacks and a Hispanic, deliberated more than seven hours over two days before reaching a verdict. The vote was 10-2, according to juror Roberto Alfonso of Boston. That was the minimum number needed to reach a verdict.

Reached last night, Joann Slymon, a nurse from Roslindale, Mass., who voted with the majority of jurors, said that race was not a factor in the deliberations and that the panel "tried very hard not to let our emotions influence our decision. Still, this case certainly brought back a lot of memories."

Neither Ms. Slymon nor Mr. Alfonso would talk about the racial breakdown of the vote.

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